The best academically rigorous books on Cleopatra for non-academics

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been fascinated by Cleopatra ever since I learned that she used science to outwit one of Rome's most powerful men by inventing the world's most expensive cocktail (a pearl disintegrated in vinegar). As a professor of Classics at Montclair State University, I have the opportunity to study ancient historical and literary texts about Cleopatra, as well as monuments, inscriptions, and papyri. I use these primary sources in teaching an advanced ancient history course on Cleopatra to undergraduate students.


I wrote...

Cleopatra: A Sourcebook

By Prudence J. Jones,

Book cover of Cleopatra: A Sourcebook

What is my book about?

Who was Cleopatra? Who is Cleopatra? Viewed as both goddess and monster even in her own lifetime, she has become through the ages saint and sinner, heroine and victim, femme fatale and star-crossed lover, black and white. Cleopatra: A Sourcebook documents what we know of Cleopatra the historical figure and also shows how she has evolved through subsequent ages. Arranged both chronologically and thematically, the volume consists of a series of readings about Cleopatra―historical, literary, and documentary―extending from ancient times to the twentieth century. Each reading is accompanied by an introduction that places it in historical and cultural context.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Reign of Cleopatra

Prudence J. Jones Why did I love this book?

Burstein's The Reign of Cleopatra is an accessible introduction to Cleopatra's life and the context in which she lived.

Biography and historical background combine with an exploration of the politics of Ptolemaic Egypt, scholarship and the arts at Alexandria, and the multicultural Hellenistic world. Primary sources, both artifacts, and documents, bring the story to life.

A glossary defines relevant terminology and an annotated bibliography provides guidance for further study. 

By Stanley M. Burstein,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Reign of Cleopatra as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ambitious, intelligent, and desired by men and emperors, Cleopatra VII came to power at a time when Roman and Egyptian interests increasingly tended to concern the same object: the Egyptian Empire itself. Cleopatra lived her whole life at the center of this complex and persistent power struggle, and her death simultaneously heralded the end of the Ptolemaic dynasty, the loss of Egyptian political independence, and the beginning of Caesar Augustus's Roman rule in Egypt. Cleopatra's legacy has since lost much of its former political significance, as she has come to symbolize instead the potent force of female sexuality and power.…


Book cover of Cleopatra and Egypt

Prudence J. Jones Why did I love this book?

Ashton's Cleopatra and Egypt considers Cleopatra from an Egyptian perspective.

Her detailed examination of the Egyptian sources for Cleopatra's life and reign distinguishes her work from most other books, which tend to place Cleopatra into a framework of Greek and Roman history. A large number of images center the Egyptian monuments and works of art associated with Cleopatra.

The text provides ample background on the Egyptian political and religious traditions onto which the Ptolemies imposed their rule.

By Sally-Ann Ashton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cleopatra and Egypt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This beautifully illustrated new biography of Cleopatra draws on literary, archaeological, and art historical evidence to paint an intimate and compelling portrait of the most famous Queen of Egypt. * Deconstructs the image of Cleopatra to uncover the complex historical figure behind the myth * Examines Greek, Roman, and Egyptian representations of Cleopatra * Considers how she was viewed by her contemporaries and how she presented herself * Incorporates the author's recent field work at a temple of Cleopatra in Alexandria * Beautifully illustrated with over 40 images


Book cover of Cleopatra: Beyond the Myth

Prudence J. Jones Why did I love this book?

Chauveau's Cleopatra: Beyond the Myth is a concise account of Cleopatra's life based closely on the Greek and Latin historiographical texts that tell her story.

This book is a perfect way to experience the original accounts of Cleopatra that led to her transformation into, e.g., Shakespeare's Cleopatra. Chauveau offers a peek behind the curtain at the origins of mythmaking about Cleopatra.

By Michel Chauveau, David Lorton (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cleopatra as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Cleopatra: kohl and vipers, barges and thrones, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. We have long been schooled in the myth of the Egyptian ruler. In his new book Michel Chauveau brings us a picture of her firmly based in reality. Cleopatra VII reigned in Egypt between 51 and 30 B.C.E. Her primary goal as a ruler was to restore over the eastern Mediterranean the supremacy of the Lagides, the dynasty of Macedonian origin of which she herself was a descendant. We know the queen best from Greek and Latin sources, though these must be used with caution because of their…


Book cover of Cleopatra and Rome

Prudence J. Jones Why did I love this book?

Kleiner's Cleopatra and Rome is an essential Cleopatra book for art lovers.

It combines Cleopatra's story with an excellent introduction to the art history of the ancient Mediterranean world. One of the most interesting aspects of Kleiner's work is the effect she describes Cleopatra having on her Roman conqueror.

Although Augustus presented Cleopatra as a dangerous enemy of Rome, the iconography he used to present his family as a kind of "first family" for Rome borrowed from the visual language Cleopatra created to communicate with her Egyptian subjects.

By Diana E. E. Kleiner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cleopatra and Rome as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With the full panorama of her life forever lost, Cleopatra touches us in a series of sensational images: floating through a perfumed mist down the Nile; dressed as Venus for a tryst at Tarsus; unfurled from a roll of linens before Caesar; couchant, the deadly asp clasped to her breast. Through such images, each immortalizing the Egyptian queen's encounters with legendary Romans--Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Octavian Augustus--we might also chart her rendezvous with the destiny of Rome. So Diana Kleiner shows us in this provocative book, which opens an entirely new perspective on one of the most intriguing women…


Book cover of The Reception of Cleopatra in the Age of Mass Media

Prudence J. Jones Why did I love this book?

There are many books about the reception of Cleopatra in high art like Shakespearean drama and Renaissance painting, but Daugherty's The Reception of Cleopatra in the Age of Mass Media is a delightful exploration of Cleopatra in popular creations such as video games, graphic novels, and television.

The incredible variety of material and engaging writing style makes this book a perfect introduction to reception studies and a must-read for pop culture aficionados.

By Gregory N. Daugherty,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Reception of Cleopatra in the Age of Mass Media as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This study examines the reception of Cleopatra from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day as it has been reflected in popular culture in the United States of America. Daugherty provides a broad overview of the influence of the Egyptian queen by looking at her presence in film, novels, comics, cartoons, TV shows, music, advertising and toys. The aim of the book is to show the different ways in which the figure of Cleopatra was able to reach a large and non-elite audience.

Furthermore, Daugherty makes a study of the reception of Cleopatra during her own lifetime.…


You might also like...

A Diary in the Age of Water

By Nina Munteanu,

Book cover of A Diary in the Age of Water

Nina Munteanu Author Of Darwin's Paradox

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Writer Ecologist Mother Teacher Explorer

Nina's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

This climate fiction novel follows four generations of women and their battles against a global giant that controls and manipulates Earth’s water. Told mostly through a diary and drawing on scientific observation and personal reflection, Lynna’s story unfolds incrementally, like climate change itself. Her gritty memoir describes a near-future Toronto in the grips of severe water scarcity.

Single mother and limnologist Lynna witnesses disturbing events as she works for the powerful international utility CanadaCorp. Fearing for the welfare of her rebellious teenage daughter, Lynna sets in motion a series of events that tumble out of her control with calamitous consequence. The novel explores identity, relationship, and our concept of what is “normal”—as a nation and an individual—in a world that is rapidly and incomprehensibly changing.

A Diary in the Age of Water

By Nina Munteanu,

What is this book about?

Centuries from now, in a post-climate change dying boreal forest of what used to be northern Canada, Kyo, a young acolyte called to service in the Exodus, discovers a diary that may provide her with the answers to her yearning for Earth’s past—to the Age of Water, when the “Water Twins” destroyed humanity in hatred—events that have plagued her nightly in dreams. Looking for answers to this holocaust—and disturbed by her macabre longing for connection to the Water Twins—Kyo is led to the diary of a limnologist from the time just prior to the destruction. This gritty memoir describes a…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Cleopatra, ancient Egypt, and queens?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Cleopatra, ancient Egypt, and queens.

Cleopatra Explore 13 books about Cleopatra
Ancient Egypt Explore 119 books about ancient Egypt
Queens Explore 87 books about queens